* Strong language and opinions follow, as well as discussions pertaining to rape culture and sexism—apologies in advance! Turn away now if any of those things are triggering or upsetting for you in any way. *
So, if you’re a fan of comics, movies, comic book movies, or feminism, you’ve probably heard about this absolutely atrocious, sexist nonsense Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were spewing in a recent interview, when the subject of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff came up. You’ve probably also read that Evans (like the spangly golden retriever he is) issued what appears to be a sincere and heartfelt apology, and Jeremy Renner gave us this:
I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.
He followed his non-apology with a visit to Conan, where (in this author’s opinion) he only shoved his foot further down his throat:
Yeah, it was a joke. Off-colored. Whatever. I’m unapologetic about a lot of things, but I got into a lot of internet trouble. Because that’s a thing now, you can get in…Mind you, I was talking about a fictional character and fictional behavior. But, Conan, if you slept with four of the six Avengers, no matter how much fun you had, you’d be a slut. I’d be a slut.
If you can’t already tell, I’m steamed. This is in no way going to be an objective article–it’s a rant, and I know it. That’s why I’m not a journalist. That’s why this is the second post on a blog I started less than a week ago. Welcome to Katie’s angry brain, y’all.
I can’t even get into the (female!!) interviewer laughing along with the idea of Black Widow as the eternal “sidekick,” flirting with whichever hero dude gets to wear a practical costume and get his face on all the merch, or Conan giggling about the “evils” of the internet right now. I’m going to focus on one dude’s (harmful) viewpoint, and why it matters.
So, where does one even begin with Renner’s “enlightening” commentary? The blatant sexism in the initial interview and subsequent “apology” is as good a place to start an any, I suppose.
Let’s look at the language used to degrade Black Widow and Renner’s defense of it. He and Chris Evans call her a “whore” and a “slut” in the interview, seemingly because, I don’t know, she’s a grown woman who might occasionally show affection toward her male co-workers? In his—I can’t think of what else to call it, but it really isn’t an—apology and the following Conan interview, Renner brushes off the anger because Black Widow is “fictional,” and then says that he, too, would be labeled a “slut” if he “slept with four of the six Avengers.”
Let’s begin with the words used. “Slut” and “whore” are specifically terms used to degrade and shame women. Sure, there are people we teasingly call “man whores,” but when was the last time a man was shamed for sleeping with too many women? (That’s its own problem, and fodder for an entire post all its own, perhaps to be written at a later date or by someone better versed in sex and gender politics than I.) A heterosexual man may be called a “slut” by friends (friends?), but it wouldn’t mean the same as a man even using the word to “poke fun” at a female, real or fictional. There just isn’t the same connotation. Yeah, maybe if Hawkeye was shown sleeping around on-screen, someone would call him a slut. But I’m sure he’d also get a couple of handshakes and claps on the back for bagging so many chicks, and everyone would go home with a boosted ego.
A heterosexual woman who shows interest beyond chaste affection in a man is immediately gossiped and speculated about, and made to feel inferior. Nowhere is this clearer than in this Black Widow debacle, where sexism and slut-shaming run rampant. Here’s a fun game: go rewatch any movie Black Widow has appeared in. Was she ever shown having any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with anyone? Male, female, or otherwise? No? WOW.
And would any of that matter, if she had? NO. Would it still be slut-shaming to use derogatory language to describe Black Widow even if she had “slept with four of the six Avengers”? YES. It’s really not that hard.
Black Widow had chemistry and obvious history with Hawkeye in the first movie, but when was it explicitly stated that they had ever been or were currently together? She kissed Cap in Winter Soldier, as a ruse. You know, to avoid being captured by basically Nazis. The first time she’s ever been allowed to show romantic interest in someone was Bruce in Age of Ultron (which, granted, kind of came out of nowhere and has it’s own issues attached, but it was the one and only time she showed blatant interest beyond friendship in another human being). Apparently, simply by existing, a woman can now bring down the ire of angry dudebros everywhere!
And even if Black Widow had fucked every single one of the Avengers, and all her colleagues at SHIELD, and somehow leapt into the Fox franchise and fucked a couple of X-Men, this is still slut-shaming and it is still unacceptable. The language used was specifically gendered, unnecessary, and hurtful. Newsflash: women have bodies and are free to do with them what they like, the same as any man on the planet. If a woman wants to fuck everyone or no one, or share platonic smooches, or get a little flirty in her joking, she is free to do so. She owes a man nothing, and she does not deserve to be called incredibly offense names.
As for Renner’s commentary about Black Widow being “fictional,” I have two points. Number one is that, yes, Natasha Romanoff exists only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and exists in a variety of forms in assorted comic books spanning decades or Marvel lore–but in this case, the Black Widow to which he was referring is inherently linked to Scarlett Johansson. When someone says “Black Widow,” the image most will now conjure up is of ScarJo in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, or Age of Ultron. Not that slut-shaming is better or worse depending on who the target is, but in this case, Scarlett Johansson is supposedly Renner’s friend. And you’re going to label her as basically “that slut in the superhero movie” to millions–billions–of people? You’re going to hurl an inherently harmful insult at a colleague and friend?
(And God forbid she be able to call him out on it, but, then she’d be a “bitch” who couldn’t take a joke. Yes, again—that’s a subject for its own post, because this is already too long.)
Number two, Mr. Renner: yes, Black Widow is fictional. But she’s real to so many women and girls across the globe and across generations. She is an icon, a symbol–a hero. She isn’t perfect, but she’s a highly visible woman in the media. Frankly, she’s one of the few that we’ve got (and since Marvel refuses to even put her on a goddamn t-shirt, what we got ain’t much). Shaming her for some imagined slight against femininity serves only to destroy one of the few women we have to look up to. If a bunch of “internet people” want to get together and defend her, we have that right. Hell, it’s basically a necessity.
Do you, Jeremy Renner, even know what words are pouring out of your mouth when you speak? I’d honestly like to know what the thought process was here. Yes, people are bound to screw up sometimes, to stick a foot in their mouth or stumble over their words or to use language they were unaware could be construed as offensive or painful. That’s the nature of our society–when you’re raised in a patriarchy, with all the associated slurs and cultural tics therein, some of that bile is bound to slide into your vocabulary. But when you’re a public figure, and people more knowledgeable than you try to teach you something, you need to listen. You don’t shut someone out because they’re a “fangirl” or an “online person.”
We live in a society where slut-shaming is not only accepted, but, in many cases, celebrated. We live in a society where women are shamed for what they like to wear, how much they eat, the books they read and the music they listen to and the movies or TV they watch. It’s sometimes hard enough for a woman to work up the courage to enter a comic book store, or to speak her mind at a convention, for fear of being laughed at, berated, or, in extreme cases (that have become all too common nowadays), harassed or threatened. We live in a society where a woman saying “no” is enough motive for a man to threaten, injure, or even kill the woman or her family, friends, or colleagues.
Our opinions are valuable, Mr. Renner. If a woman tells you you’ve upset her, you shut the fuck up and listen to what she has to say. Are you a woman in modern America, sir? Have you lived a life in any way comparable to the lives of modern American women?
The answer to those questions is no, and that means you don’t get to decide what should or should not upset me.
You sack of shit.
(That insult’s acceptable, by the way, because it isn’t gendered. I don’t need to stoop to that level, guy. Go fly a kite.)
And so as not to end on an awful note, please enjoy this brilliant Black Widow movie parody: